Traveling in a foreign country is a challenge in many ways. One has to know the customs of the country, at least the fundamentals of what is and what is not acceptable behavior there, the dress codes and the proper way to communicate if you do not know the language of the particular country you are in.This is especially important in certain areas of the world like muslim nations of the middle east.
Many Americans, myself included, have this false notion that most of the world speaks english.True- english is becoming the international language of business around the world, but as far as everyday speaking among citizens of a particular country ,english is not a second language automatically, It depends on which particular country you are in of course.There are still some remote areas of the world where english is never heard-because of geographic isolation. That cannot be helped, but with the phennominal growth of the internet in the last few years,even the most remote, isolated areas on earth are brought into close touch with everyone through the click of a computer mouse.
Besides the countries of the world where the official language is english, the rest of the countries of the world speak their native language, not english.The main exceptions are major hotels around the world where people have to know english to accommodate guests in their hotels.English is taught in many schools around the world, but most people prefer to speak in their native tongue.
I had similar experiences when I visited mainland china from 2007 to 2010. Outside of Hong Kong, very few people spoke english in mainland china when I was there. I was very surprised to find that even in major hotels, I had to use sign language often to get my point across to the hotel staff. They say english is mandatory in public schools now all over china, so maybe in a few years, this situation will change greatly there as the young children now in schools grow up.Maybe china is heading towards being a bi -lingual country of chinese and englsh speakers.
I feel the best way to communicate and win the respect of the people you meet in a foreign land is to learn a little of their language before you go there. Nothing more than the basic phrases to get your point across.That's what I did before I went to china. I read books on conversational chinese and I practiced my chinese every time i went to mainland china. Many people there appreciated my efforts to speak chinese ,though my pronunciation was sometimes way off.
Many chinese people are trying to learn english today, I feel I should return the favor by learning some chinese before I go there.
A little preparation can go a long way.